A shortage of firefighters is costing Des Moines thousands of dollars in weekly overtime, fire chief John TeKippe told Axios this week.
Why it matters: The shortage keeps at least two of the department's 23 fire vehicles, like trucks or ambulances, grounded at any given time.
- That includes one at a brand-new $8.3 million fire station that's expected to cut response times in half for parts of the city.
What's happening: New firefighter training was delayed last year due to the pandemic, City Manager Scott Sanders told the City Council last month.
- There are currently about 25 shift vacancies each day due to understaffing or for things like vacation, sick leave or military service.
State of play: The department is playing catch-up with training and hiring, but expects to be in a staffing jam through at least the first half of next year, TeKippe said.
- Seventeen new firefighters will complete their training in late December.
- Multiple retirements in coming weeks, along with potential illnesses or injuries, will keep the department below its 274-person operations staffing level, TeKippe said.
What they're doing: The department will begin firefighter training in January with 30 people, nearly double the number of the current class.
- At least seven are paramedics and will begin fire station work as early as June because they've already received a portion of their training. The rest will join stations in early 2023.
Risk level: DSM maintains enough staff to simultaneously handle at least two structure fires and three EMS calls at all times.
- And the pumper at the new #11 station has an advanced life support system and carries the same paramedic equipment as an ambulance.
- That allows emergency staff to begin life-saving support on the scene prior to when an ambulance from another location can arrive to transport people to medical facilities.
Bottom line: DSM’s firefighter pipeline has a pandemic kink.
- City officials are getting a grip on the problem but there’s not a quick fix to training and hiring new firefighters.
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